Biden Campaign Pledges to Expand Operation, Focusing on Battlegrounds
Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign, which has faced criticism from some Democrats worried about his team’s general election readiness, is planning a substantial expansion of its operation and eying an ambitious battleground map even as the question of when Mr. Biden will resume in-person campaigning remains unclear.
In an hour-long briefing with reporters on Friday, senior campaign officials pledged to have “over 600 organizing staff responsible for battleground states” in place by next month. They also said they have doubled the size of the digital team “and it is growing,” and that they plan to implement a new livestreaming platform as they navigate the challenges of campaigning virtually during the coronavirus crisis.
The campaign, which is seeking to cast the election as a referendum on President Trump, expects traditional, on-the-ground organizing to take place sometime this year, said Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon. But when that begins — or when Mr. Biden leaves his Wilmington, Del., home to campaign — will be determined by public health recommendations, she said.
“The most important thing for us and for the campaign is public safety and the safety of the vice president, the people around him, the staff, the press corps, the Secret Service,” Ms. O’Malley Dillon said, noting the current stay-at-home order in Delaware. “We will travel physically to places when the time is right, driven by the experts and the guidelines that come and not a day before.”
But, she stressed, “I truly believe voters, our volunteers, our activists, our supporters, get as much on hearing from the V.P. and connecting with him in a virtual setting now as they would if he was out in person. So I really feel like we’re doing the business of campaigning in an aggressive way.”
Others in the party, however, have been dismayed by the poor quality of Mr. Biden’s online appearances, citing the glitches that have marred some of his live streams, and have urged him to significantly upgrade his digital operation and to intensify the pace of his public appearances.
In the meantime, Ms. O’Malley Dillon said that the campaign planned to have battleground state leadership in place by next month as part of an effort to build out the relatively skeletal staff that powered Mr. Biden through the primary. She promised “a number of significant announcements” on how the team is building up in coming days and emphasized a commitment to hiring “diverse senior leadership.”
The Biden campaign, which is now fund-raising with the Democratic National Committee, has $103 million in cash on hand, according to a slideshow that accompanied the campaign presentation. The Trump campaign announced earlier this week that, in conjunction with Republican fund-raising committees, it had $255 million on hand.
Ms. O’Malley Dillon also sketched out the Biden campaign’s view of the battleground map, echoing the candidate, who privately told supporters at a meeting of his virtual finance committee on Thursday that he expected a major expansion of the playing field, according to two participants on the call.
She indicated that the campaign sees Arizona, Texas and Georgia as being in play. She is particularly “bullish,” she said, about Arizona, and an accompanying slide described the Biden coalition there as consisting of Romney-Clinton voters and others who have increasingly moved toward the Democrats in recent years, as well as increasing turnout among Latino voters and voters under 30.
A night earlier, Mr. Biden again addressed the biggest controversy his campaign has faced in the general election to date, saying that he did not remember Tara Reade, the woman who has accused him of sexual assault, and said that Americans “probably shouldn’t vote for me” if they believe the accusation, which he has strenuously denied.
“I think they should vote their heart,” he said on MSNBC, asked about his message to voters who had been inclined to support him but believed the Reade allegation. “I wouldn’t vote for me if I believed Tara Reade.”
Ms. Reade, a former Senate aide, has said that Mr. Biden assaulted her in 1993. After waiting for weeks to personally address her story, Mr. Biden did so earlier this month, though some allies and other progressives thought he should have taken on the issue more proactively, and sooner. In the interview on “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” Mr. Biden said that women’s claims of assault should be taken seriously but should also be vetted, as he sharpened his questioning of Ms. Reade’s accusation.
“Look at Tara Reade’s story,” he said. “It changes considerably. But I don’t want to question her motive. I don’t want to question anything other than to say the truth matters.”
On Friday, Kate Bedingfield, a deputy campaign manager, was asked whether the Biden camp believed that Mr. Trump or his campaign were linked to Ms. Reade’s allegation. “No,” she replied, saying the campaign was not questioning her motive.
Also Thursday night, Mr. Biden indicated that he would not pardon Mr. Trump if elected — “absolutely, yes, I commit,” he said, when asked if he would commit to not pardoning the president, and to the idea that no one is above the law.
And he said he had no involvement in the F.B.I. investigation of Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser. In his final days as vice president, Mr. Biden had been one of several officials who asked for the identity of an unnamed American mentioned in intelligence reports about contacts with Russians, an American who turned out to be Mr. Flynn, according to documents released this week by Republican senators. Such “unmasking” requests are made thousands of times a year.
“I was never a part, or had any knowledge, of any criminal investigation into Flynn while I was in office,” Mr. Biden said. “Period. Not one single time.”
Mr. Biden was joined for much of his MSNBC interview by Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia and a potential vice-presidential candidate, who has been open about her interest in the position. Earlier in the day, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan — another possible running mate — joined a virtual round table with Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden has pledged to run with a woman on the ticket, and the split-screen events illustrated, in some ways, the broader debate playing out in his camp and among his allies: whether Mr. Biden should select a woman of color, like Ms. Abrams, or prioritize regional considerations, like Ms. Whitmer’s ties to the industrial Midwest. He has said he is considering as many as a dozen candidates for the job.
“She has a great, great capacity to explain things, and to lay out exactly why it’s going to be so critically important in this election,” Mr. Biden said of Ms. Abrams, lauding her work on voting rights and calling her an “incredibly capable person.”